With one other runoff between Macron and Le Pen looming, France’s obsession with Islam continues to disenfranchise voters and undermine the true separation of church and state.
Emmanuel Macron might have gained the primary spherical of France’s presidential election, however the success of right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen, who got here in second with 23.1 % of the vote, paints a worrying image of the way forward for French politics.
Le Pen’s surge was partly resulting from her potential to deal with the price of dwelling and repaint herself as a reasonable nationalist. However anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic attitudes, usually wrapped up as a defence of “French tradition”, stay a bulwark of her attraction.
Le Pen’s recognition demonstrates that divisive rhetoric holds political foreign money in France. But it’s now not solely the protect of the far proper. This 12 months’s presidential election noticed candidates from throughout the political spectrum try and outdo one another as defenders of “laïcité” (separation of church and state). At one level in 2021, Macron’s inside minister Gérald Darmanin even accused Le Pen of going “mushy” on Islam.
France’s obsession with Islam is predicated on the idea that the state is secular in nature. But each political assertion or authorities coverage that seeks to guard laïcité and regulate Islam contradictorily entangles state and faith ever nearer. Not solely does this undermine any true division between non secular and political spheres, however hinders real political dialogue over France’s wealthy cultural and non secular tapestry.
An obsession with ‘political’ Islam
Assaults on Islamic “values” grew to become a suitable mainstay of political discourse beneath President Sarkozy, who steadily framed his anti-Muslim insurance policies as a defence of laïcité. After the homicide of Samuel Paty by an ISIL sympathiser, Macron has adopted an identical tenor, launched a crackdown on Muslim civil society organisations, and undermined educational freedom by commissioning a research on the alleged growth of Islamo-leftist (Islamo-Gauchiste) ideology at French universities.
Whereas Macron’s efforts to curb non secular “extremism” could seem rational, additionally they evoke an uncomfortable fact as to who really counts as absolutely French and what could be thought of a correct interpretation of French society. As Reza Zia-Ebrahimi writes, laïcité will not be a hard and fast set of values, and its lurch in direction of a right-wing anti-Islamism has occurred incrementally over a number of many years.
But it’s law-abiding Muslims which have usually felt the real-life penalties. The current anti-separatism invoice in opposition to Islamist “extremism” provides French authorities higher energy to intervene in non secular associations and limits international funding. Over the previous 12 months, there have been quite a lot of instances the place French authorities have used administrative procedures to shut down mosques, colleges, Muslim meals stands and even a number one anti-discrimination group, the Collective In opposition to Islamophobia in France.
A ‘tradition conflict’ by another title
Macron has denied France is within the throes of a US or UK-style “tradition conflict”, however the language of laïcité denotes an nervousness about cultural loss and anti-immigrant sentiment that the European proper has been exploiting for many years. Islamophobia is unfortunately commonplace throughout Europe and the US, however whereas Islamophobia is recognised (albeit generally disingenuously) by political leaders in most Western nations, French politicians refute the very existence of any anti-Muslim stigma. As an alternative, “Islamophobia” is seen as a ploy by an “Islamo-leftist” entrance to silence defenders of French tradition.
This double-denial silences debate over France’s wealthy cultural and non secular heterogeneity. As an alternative, uniformity is taken into account the idea of belonging, with little consideration paid to the ability and backgrounds of who will get to delineate the moral contours of such an id. As Muslim migrants should not recognised alongside ethnic traces, discrimination in opposition to Muslims is known as non secular critique moderately than cultural disenfranchisement. Such criticism is defended as a reputable expression of free speech in a secular society, and people who voice unease with the character of such critique are both labelled as leftist Islamic sympathisers or outright Islamists.
This leaves little area for French Muslims – whether or not they follow Islam or not – to genuinely contribute to political debates on their phrases. Muslim French residents – regardless of many being second or third-generation little children of immigrants – are disenfranchised by means of simultaneous calls for that they assimilate whereas excluding them by means of spatial, authorized, and safety measures. The broader intersectionality of up to date French id is ignored as a menace to the privileged place of conventional tradition.
Sadly, with the ultimate presidential runoff between Macron and Le Pen solely weeks away, there’s little prospect that anti-Islamic political feeling will dissipate anytime quickly. It’s seen as a simple vote-winner, and neither candidate might be keen to dent their “cultural” credentials.
However, in the long run, any real effort to finish France’s sensationalist obsession with Islam would require recognition of the variety amongst the nation’s six million Muslim residents and the creation of genuinely open areas inside which faith could be mentioned with out state interference. Solely by doing so can the best of laïcité be reclaimed from its present right-wing interpretation and result in true free debate.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.